Two years ago I was studying knitting design techniques by reading the fantastic “ SWEATER DESIGN IN PLAIN ENGLISH ” by Maggie Righetti (I encourage everyone to get a copy!).
Towards the middle of the book, she explains that she was motivated to write it by the fear that most of her students had of trying to make a sweater. This fear is quite understandable.
Already, on the financial level. Someone wearing a size 32 would typically use between 800 and 1000 yards of yarn to make one, which is a daunting number of skeins! A pair of socks, for example, would only take one.
Then there is the question of time. For a toque, we only have around a hundred stitches on the needles. For a sweater... without wanting to scare you, it's much, much more!
Finally, it requires preparation. It is always possible to cast on your stitches a little randomly for a mitten; the worst that can happen is to undo a few rows of 50 stitches. Nothing dramatic! But it's much more discouraging to realize, after knitting and sewing an entire sweater, that it's too small...or too big.
I know this feeling all too well, having experienced this situation several times. I was young and rebellious (I'm still rebellious, but I'm better at picking my battles) and I refused to plan. So I made not only one, but 4 sweaters that were good to throw away, or almost. I offered the mess to my knitting friends to recycle the wool as they saw fit. I was so frustrated that I never wanted to see those wools again, proof of my incompetence.
Eventually, I came across THE TOP-DOWN METHOD by ELIZABETH ZIMERMMAN and decided to try it. I was once again going to make a sweater without a sample and without a plan, but at least this time I could try it on as I went along. The risk was limited because if I made a mistake, I could always adjust the problems while knitting.
Top-down sweaters are fantastic for these reasons:
1. You can try it whenever you want and thus correct errors quickly. No need to finish the entire sweater and sew it before realizing the shoulders are too small!
2. If you're not sure you have enough yarn, you simply knit until you run out. You might have a crop top instead of a tunic, but it will still be a sweater.
3. You have no sewing (and very little finishing) to do at the end.
Ideal for those allergic to finishes, it also saves you a lot of time while giving a beautiful finish.
Since I hadn't planned, I still had to undo my sweater not once, but 7 times! Sometimes a few rows, sometimes the whole thing... Which didn't stop me from finishing my first real sweater! Besides, I had made so many mistakes that I now felt perfectly capable of teaching others how to avoid them. On the perks of being a rebel!
Once the first sweater was finished, many others followed, each different from the other, each time more successful than the last. Little by little, I began to love math, a knitter's best friend. Years of frustrated rebellion can easily be avoided by making a good sample and taking 30 minutes to plan your project. And when I talk about math, it's not about logarithms or trigonometry, but simply the rule of three and basic geometry.
Maybe you don't yet understand how it all works, how to make a good sample, where to start, how to do your calculations...
It's not serious.